EVERY week, immigration and police swoop on luckless Filipinos, hapless Pakistanis and ill-fated antipodeans, dragging them from offices and shops, off construction sites and out of bars where they have been illegally employed. Every day, young hopefuls from Britain emerge from Kai Tak airport with a suitcase in one hand and hope in their hearts of finding a job. The first group face stiff fines, possible jail and likely deportation for breaching their conditions of stay. The second group are a privileged minority, home free and without any restrictions against them working. Why the difference? It's a legacy of history. Lingering traces of our colonial past mean the gates are wide open for Britons to come here unimpeded. They are doing so by the hundreds. Meanwhile, several thousand Cantonese, mostly young men, are in our jails, imprisoned because they have come here illegally and taken jobs. What's going on? Two things occur to me about this situation. First of all, how come our jails are not also packed with guilty employers who hire illegal workers? According to our laws, they are equally at fault. But they seldom appear before the bench. Why not? It is a rare wonder that the relentless hunt for Chinese workers seldom seems to result in the arrest of the people who gave them jobs; are these people invisible ghosts? The second point of interest is what is going to happen after 1997. If it is right and proper that citizens of the sovereign power should now be able to land here freely and work, will the same apply when the British Crown Colony becomes a Special Administrative Region of China? Chinese authorities have vowed that immigration regulations after the handover will basically be the same. But can you see the Chinese Government permitting young Chinese to be jailed for working? I can't. And if not, what will prevent them from flooding over the Shenzhen River? Last year, 15,864 overstayers were investigated, as were 5,404 illegal workers. Fines of between $400 and $4,000 and jail sentences of between a month to three months, usually suspended, were imposed. Filipina domestic servants who are caught working outside the homes where they are supposed to be employed are usually jailed for a month, fined and deported. Why are the people who give them jobs not similarly jailed? The immigration ordinances seem impossibly complex. In some cases, as with Chinese working here illegally, the rules are imposed strictly and inflexibly. In other areas, there are holes in the law that seem to allow easy access. According to the Canadian Commission, there are between 60,000 and 100,000 passport holders in Hong Kong. There are 34,000 residents who are holders of United States passports. New Zealand officials believe they have 3,000 of their nationals resident here and while Australia's Consulate-General will not even guess, it's believed there are at least 25,000 Australians living in Hong Kong. Most of the passport holders from Vancouver and Sydney are in reality Hong Kong people who have gone elsewhere to seek the right for them and their families to live abroad. So how come they can return with double identities? They land at Kai Tak demanding entry because they are Hong Kong belongers. They commute back to Brisbane carrying their passports with kangaroo and emu rampant: 'G'day mate, I'm an Aussie.' Surely, they cannot have things both ways? Well, they can. And so can the young Brits who arrive endlessly on working holidays. It's a situation ripe for confusion and it's creating a precedent which could cause us trouble and embarrassment after 1997. If we permit Britons to arrive here to work now, how can we deny Chinese the same rights in 20 months' time? Many of the young English, Irish, Scots and Welsh arrivals are perfectly pleasant and worthwhile people seeking to make a few dollars as they see the world. But at a time when unemployment is beginning to bite and many in the community fear for their jobs, is it sensible for us to allow them to come here and work? Many people think not. Legco member Allen Lee Peng-fei is among those who harbour doubts. 'It seems to me it is time due to the unemployment situation that we put a stop to the influx of people who come in and work without a visa,' he says. The executive director of the British Chamber of Commerce, Christopher Hammerbeck, says the number of young Britons coming here to work is very limited. In the restaurant and bar sector, such young expatriates are mostly confined to ethnic outlets. 'I am sure you would not wish to deny the good citizens of Hong Kong the delights of sampling Guinness served by an Irishman, complete with the Blarney,' he added. True, and in the context of the 250,000 jobs directly provided by British businesses in Hong Kong, the expatriate workers are minimal. But they still provide a source of future potential embarrassment. An annex to the Joint Declaration states plainly that entry to the SAR from other parts of China 'shall continue to be regulated in accordance with the present practice'. This seems clear, at present. Mr Hammerbeck and others believe the present open door arrangements for Britons will end well before June 30, 1997. This is not the view of the Hong Kong Government, which seems content to let things carry on, with British nationals getting a one-year visa when they arrive at Kai Tak. If they want to remain longer, they apply for an identity card. Will the same rules apply to Chinese workers after 1997?